I am a huge fan of Halo, I enjoyed all three Mass Effect games, Borderlands provided me with weeks of entertainment, and films such as Star Wars and TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica are right up my street. What if a developer could take elements from all that I have just mentioned in and around science fiction, compress them all into a giant ball, and then let it explode across a new universe, a blank canvass, big bang style? For any fans of science fiction games, films and productions I am certain such an experience, shared with friends non the less, would be most welcome. Step into the spotlight then, Destiny.
Bungie, you know, those wizards responsible for one of gaming’s biggest franchises, released a beta for their new trojan horse set to infiltrate our consoles in September and taking us away from all else. Bungie, along with publisher Activision, have formed to have a stab at creating a huge game that has seen record investment and get many eager gamers rather excited.
Naturally, being a massive multiplayer online first person shooter, or MMO FPS, one would forgive a sacrifice in the visuals department. Understanding that with huge and vast environments with many other players populating the game space – in addition to enemy AI, resources may simply not be available to make it all look amazing too.
However, within minutes of gameplay it becomes apparent Bungie have surpassed expectations yet again in creating a lush and vibrant world, impressing around nearly every corner or across some fantastic draw distances. Shadows look amazing owing to some great lighting, colours are vibrant yet realistic, and both the environment and character/vehicle models look brilliant. Pushing the boat out with these visuals had me suspecting unstable framerates when the action was to get thick and fast. Yet there was nothing; no stutter, no tearing, just silky smooth gameplay keeping it all flowing the way melted butter should flow through a delicious crumpet.
This being a role-playing game where I am likely to spend a considerable amount of time in the menus means the user interface had better be good. Nothing ruins a good RPG like a UI being far too complex – after all I am playing a game not Sudoku. Fortunately, I really do like the UI and menu system in Destiny.
Moving the circle or, ahem, halo, around the menu is a doddle and everything is within suitable reach. No complex layers or navigating through multiple screens just to spend a new skill point. Much like the visuals, it just flows and is easy to pick up within minutes of playing. The heads-up display (HUD) also highlights objectives and points of interest without being intrusive or looking like a giant mess of icons on-screen. It is all very simple and yet not seemingly lacking any depth.
The developers have done a great job in my opinion of making it all console friendly but avoiding a “UI for dummies” feel that would make it feel dull or lack a sense of progression. With plenty to unlock and upgrade I was looking through the skills menu and getting excited for the new abilities heading my way in September, but it was just as easy to back right out into the action or locate and invite a friend to my fireteam. Good job there Bungie. Take a bow.
One theme that I suppose was inevitable is Bungie and their ties to Halo are almost everywhere. From obvious things such as the little ghosts being much like the “Guilty Spark” to a point where they even open doors with the same magic beam of light, to the less obvious, yet always in your face, weapon reticule being at shoulder height rather than the dead center of the screen. Even the enemy AI and character models remind me of Halo, being in small packs and scattered all over the map ready to be triggered as a quick set piece fire-fight.
Good! Because if there is one thing Bungie do well it is AI and set-pieces. When developers such as Naughty Dog become renowned for complex character animations and movement, you expect that to be carried over to another franchise they develop, such as The Last of Us for example. Well, I personally feel that Destiny benefits significantly from retaining some of those great Halo like features, after all why fix it if it isn’t broken? Perhaps if Bungie developed a game for a different genre they could escape such comparisons, but this is a first-person shooter being created by the same developer that redefined that genre on consoles.
There are suggestions of small nods to other games, though maybe not intentional, such as Borderlands and a sprinkle of Mass Effect. I can see where these opinions are coming from but I think overall Destiny retains its own unique feel and experience. The looting is balanced very well in this beta and I hope that continues throughout the full game. There is enough to feel rewarded for success and exploration, but not too much as to feel showered in gifts just to retain your interest. It has been a while since actual gameplay was more important to me than the loot I would find and/or receive.
I really like focusing on the mission, finding a new item through a loot chest or enemy drop, yet not feeling the need to open up the menu and inspect said item until arriving back at base, in this case the “tower”. The combat is that engaging, especially when with friends, that the fun is to be found in accomplishing the mission with any loot found becoming the icing on the cake.
There is so much co-operative fun to be had here with friends, even more so when a random public event entices all players in the area to work together. Yet, I could also go at these missions lonewolf and still enjoy it as much in the less challenging missions. The exploration mission for example, where you must activate any one of many beacons to get a random objective, are well suited to gaining small amounts of experience without a gruelling stand-off at the end.
It is an absolute playground for fans of the FPS and RPG genres that can be played with or without others. The option to get really competitive in the Crucible is certainly most welcome and doesn’t force player vs player combat on anyone not wanting to do so. Yet it is another of example of well-balanced gameplay and allows you to test your skills and newly acquired gear against real world opponents.
Fast, frantic and fun would describe how I found the Crucible matches, yet I do hope the full release offers lobbies whereby additional abilities and weapons are disabled. A vanilla type gameplay if you like that puts everyone on equal footing. Both the victim of and user of some high-powered weapons can tip the scales a little too much and run the risk of affecting what is otherwise a nice balance of gameplay. If I had gone up against an entire team using the same weapon “he” had, then it would not have been any fun at all. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for that in the final build.
So far, I feel Bungie have done a great job catering for all players using one of the three classes of guardian, and with such good balance that unless you simply do not like the genre, I would struggle to understand why anyone would not find fun in Destiny. Competitive multiplayer needs a keen eye on it to ensure the same balance doesn’t tilt too much either way, but as it stands it has been nothing but fun since those gates opened.
A top developer being backed by one of the largest publishers has proven to be like giving Lewis Hamilton a tank full of nitrous-oxide. But a steady eye needs to remain on the scales because amongst great visuals, fluid gameplay and buckets of content, the balance is perhaps key amongst harsh critics not fond of needing pitstops.